New York State Department of Health Reminds New Yorkers to Take Precautions to Prevent Skin Cancer During UV Awareness Month

Too Much Exposure to Ultraviolet Rays is the Main Cause of Skin Cancer

UV Rays are Invisible Radiation from the Sun, Tanning Booths, Sunlamps and Tanning Beds

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 25, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health is reminding all New Yorkers during UV Awareness Month to protect their skin while enjoying some fun in the sun. Natural sunlight is the main source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which may produce a tan, but it's important to remember that tanned skin is damaged skin. Each sunburn and tan add up and may result in skin cancer.

"Enjoying time in the sun with friends and family is a great way to have fun and be physically active, but it's also important to take preventive steps to avoid UV radiation exposure," State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "A simple but important precaution is to use sunscreen when you are outside, even on cloudy days or when you are in the shade, and to wear protective clothing, such as hats, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts."

Skin cancer most often develops because of exposure to UV rays, either from natural sunlight or from tanning devices, such as lamps, tanning beds, and tanning booths. While some physical characteristics can put an individual at higher risk of skin cancer, such as a lighter natural skin color, blonde or red hair, or a family history of skin cancer, anyone can get skin cancer.

An estimated 90% of melanomas, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are caused by UV exposure. In New York, melanoma is the ninth most common type of cancer. More than 4,200 New Yorkers are diagnosed with melanoma every year. Melanoma claims nearly 400 lives in every year. Because melanoma occurs less frequently among non-white racial-ethnic groups, when it does occur, it's often diagnosed at a later stage, resulting in a worse prognosis.

In observance of UV Awareness Month, the Department urges New Yorkers to follow these recommendations to protect skin from UV rays:

  • Never use a tanning bed or booth or a sun lamp.
  • Wear a wide brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants whenever possible when outdoors.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays, which can also reduce the risk of cataracts.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, which blocks out 93 percent of UV rays.
  • Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and again after swimming or perspiring.
  • Avoid the direct midday sun, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of UV rays. Exposure during childhood and adolescence plays a role in the future development of skin cancer, including deadly melanoma. Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight and their skin should be covered with protective clothing and hats. As children tend to spend more time outdoors, their skin can burn more easily. Adults should ensure children are protected from excess sun exposure with protective clothing, sunscreen applied to exposed skin before they go outside, and limited time in the sun, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Using tanning devices, such as beds, booths, and sunlamps to capture a summer glow is no safer than natural sunlight. Tanning devices cause the same damage to skin, increasing the risks of skin cancer. New York State Public Health Law prohibits those under the age of 18 from using UV radiation devices and requires photo proof of age for use of such devices. The use of tanning devices is discouraged, but adults who do so should follow the recommendations outlined in the Tanning Hazards Information Sheet.

Information about local efforts that are underway to increase the adoption of sun safety policies and practices in community settings can be found here. In addition, the New York State Cancer Consortium is a statewide network made up of more than 200 members from the public and private sectors whose missions are aligned with reducing cancer incidence and mortality. Consortium Action Teams come together to address some of New York's highest burden of preventable cancers, including a Skin Cancer Action Team.

For more information about UV safety, view and download the Department's Take a Stand Against the Tan flyer, which is also available in Spanish.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has information on sun safety, which you can find here.